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Anglers hurry to get fish houses off thin ice in Otter Tail County

Chuck and Dennis Venzke, of Wadena, pulled their ice fishing house off of Buchanan Lake near Ottertail on Wednesday morning. Looking across the lake at that time, at least one other fish house was sunken halfway through the ice, and many others had purportedly already gone under.

Fish houses are dropping like flies through bad ice on area lakes.

Chris Vinten, the Conservation Officer for the Perham area, said at least 20 sunken ice fishing houses had already been reported as of Wednesday afternoon; Buchanan, Rush, Big Pine and Little Pine lakes appear to be the worst so far.

There are likely plenty more sinkers that have gone unreported - area anglers claim that 13 fish houses have fallen through on Buchanan alone, and 17 on Rush. Clerks at the bait shop in Ottertail say they've heard numbers as high as 50, depending on who's telling the tale.

It's an unusual dilemma to see in Minnesota at the end of December.

Patches of open water and slushy, thin ice are the result of this winter's warm and windy weather, and lack of snow. Vinten said that recent high winds created "a lot of swirling, especially around the ice houses." He explained that fish houses collect heat as they sit out in the sun, and then the wind whips around them, eroding the ice.

"If you've got water around your fish house, be careful," he warned, adding that extra caution should also be taken in any areas where there may be a current.

Many anglers are scrambling today to get their fish houses off the ice before they fall through. The task isn't easy, as the houses must be pulled by hand or with a four-wheeler - the ice is too dangerous to be driven on with a truck or car. Even four-wheelers, Vinten said, could easily go under.

"Don't trust the ice at all, and prepare to fall through," said Vinten. "Go out with a buddy, carry a rope. Be prepared to pull your friend out if they go through. Wear a life jacket."

One man on Blanche Lake, Vinten said, pulled his fish house off the ice yesterday, and today there's a big hole where the house had stood.

"A couple of days ago, they (the owners of the fish house) claimed there were 11 inches of ice un-der there," he said. "It's a horrible year right now. It's dangerous."

Still, Vinten recommends that anglers do move the houses whenever possible, even if that simply means pulling them to a safer spot on the lake. Not only are the houses valuable to their owners (most are worth a few thousand dollars), he said, but those that fall through are considered litter and are the responsibility of the owner. This is why it's so important that the houses be marked correctly, he said, so that officers are able to enforce the rules of clean-up.

Chuck and Dennis Venzke, of Wadena, braved the ice on Buchanan Wednesday morning, using a four-wheeler to tug their fish house off the lake. With temperatures supposedly hitting the forties on Saturday, Chuck said, "I figured, we'd better do it now."